Saturday, October 18, 2003

The last days of privacy: CAPPS II

PBS | I, Cringely . Archived Column
Assuming that the airline is able to gather all 39 data points, under CAPPS-II they will be automatically reported to the TSA, which one might assume would compare the data to a terrorist profile. But before that happens, CAPPS-II uses the 39 data points to gather even more information about you from commercial and government databases. Some of this is confirming for accuracy the data already provided in the idea that a real terrorist would probably lie. Some of it is to dramatically expand the TSA's profile of you and me. To do this, they'll look at our credit reports, our credit cards and bank accounts. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service, if available, they'll confirm our employment and income. They'll check immigration and look for outstanding warrants through Interpol and the FBI. And they'll compare this information to that of our traveling companions and to the information for all other passengers on that plane in the assumption that we might be working together while appearing to travel separately. Eventually, we'll be rated on a red, yellow, green scale, and those of us lucky enough to get the green light will find it remarkably easy to get on an airplane. This rating and perhaps other information about us, will be held not just at the TSA but also in the computers of the four major reservations systems.

Predictable and inevitable. If it has to be done, there should a lot of resources bugeted for correcting errors, protecting use, setting up appeals, punishing misuse, etc. etc.

Does ANYONE imagine that Bush will handle this well? Does anyone trust them not to misuse this data? Will criticism of the Administration move one from a "green" to a "yellow" or "red" rating?

Better not get any traffic tickets ... if you want to fly ...

This is one of Cringely's best. He goes beyond the ugliness of CAPPS II and provides a concise outline of one approach to the new age of high tech terrorism. This approach assumes that terrorists will succeed, but that it's possible to mitigate the consequences of their success. So we really can't prevent people from getting weapons on a plane (or at least we don't want to pay what it would cost to prevent it), but we can prevent them from using the plane as a weapon -- by fortifying the cockpit door. (If one understands that much of our aviation security screening is really to reassure passengers rather than to increase security, then a lot of things make more sense.)

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